The other day when working on a piece I came across a really interesting quote, “Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening” (Lisa M. Hayes).
I found myself reflecting on this, what other people say to or about us can have a profound effect on our confidence and our self-perceptions. Why should what we tell or say about ourselves be any different?
My body and the perceptions I have of it have changed dramatically over the years. Puberty, illness and fashion have all played their part.
When I was younger, I stressed over my frizzy hair and crooked teeth. Now, at 27 I barely give them a thought.
I remember the days when everyone wanted to have Jennifer Aniston’s haircut, you know the one, the one with all the layers that beautifully framed her face.
I got that haircut, but it didn’t change how people, or perhaps more specifically, men, perceived me. It didn’t make me more beautiful, or sexy or attractive because ultimately that comes from within. It’s a cliché, but it’s a fact. The more confidence you have on the inside permeates the skin and radiates on the outside. Your body is a shell that needs to be nurtured and cared for, while simultaneously nourishing your mind.
My body has seen me through many incidents and events. When sexually assaulted at 18 by a close friend, my body felt dirty and damaged. However, no amount of bathing or pampering could heal me. It was my mind and soul that was injured. It is not the scars on my body that people notice, it is the way I flinch when approached or touched without warning.
I threw myself into running, and took up self-defence classes at university. I wanted my body to be ‘strong’, to resist harm. I had relationships with emotionally unavailable men and convinced myself that my body was responsible for their inevitable demise. I told myself that I was disgusting and that I needed to change my look. When my look didn’t change, I cemented my relationship with Dairy Milk, gained half a stone and ‘proved myself right’.
After a string of destructive relationships, I moved to Edinburgh for a Masters. I decided I would live alone, ensuring full independence and threw myself into studying while working nearly full time.
In January of 2012, a curved ball was thrown. I was given a life-changing diagnosis that was the beginning of a whole new body ‘image’.
Due to the medication, my weight fluctuated, my skin and hair became dry and I had to ensure I wore make up constantly so I didn’t scare anyone.
In the summer of 2013, I was told that I was harbouring a growth the size of a grapefruit. The grapefruit, as it became lovingly known, was responsible for the biggest change thus far. Two months after its removal, I had lost a considerable amount of weight and despite being able to fit comfortably into a size 8-10 I hated my body for not being able to protect me against infection, vulnerability, moodiness and a loss of friendships.
The truth remains though. We should not be focusing so much on what others say or how they may perceive us. Let’s build up and congratulate ourselves. I look at myself each day, now with a short, dark pixie crop (watch out Emma Watson and Carey Mulligan!) and despite still feeling a sense of sadness at how it would be nice for my stomach to resemble jelly a little less, I look at my face and focus on how I am still smiling, my eyes convey mischievousness and warmth to all they rest on and how my legs still have the ability to walk up Arthur’s Seat, to run marathons, or perhaps more importantly (or realistically) to wonderful coffee shops and eating places that host a variety of wonderful conversations and incredible people. These are the things, and the people that matter. Your body will inevitably change and alter but find a way to love it regardless.
– by an anonymous woman, aged 27. The author asked me to include a link to EWRASAC, an organisation in Edinburgh which provides support to survivors of sexual abuse. If you would like to support their work, you can find details about how to donate here.